Measuring Your Ministry—a Warning and an Encouragement

Photo by  James Barr  on  Unsplash

Photo by James Barr on Unsplash

A Brief Review of Os Guinness’s Renaissance: The Power of the Gospel However Dark the Times

Are you experiencing a growing sense of alarm at how our culture has influenced our view of ministry? Do you fear that the clamoring voices of culture have the power to drown out the voice of Scripture and the leading of the Holy Spirit in how we plan, strategize, and seek to measure our goals? Do you see a trend in the Christian West toward secular thinking, corrupting forces, and division? Perhaps you should take time to read through Os Guinness’ short and engaging book Renaissance and consider the following warning and encouragement.

Can the work of God be measured?

In the first pages of his book, Guinness reminds us of the oft quoted quip of G.K. Chesterton, “At least five times the Faith has to all appearances gone to the dogs. In each case, it was the dog who died.” [1} With this perspective in mind, he then notes several of the failings of the Western church in an effort to encourage the emerging leadership of the Global South to avoid such avarice. One such failing stands out and seems in concert with the growing apprehension in my own soul regarding our view of ministry. Guinness acutely warns of the “fashionable modern obsession with public opinion, numbers, quantity, and metrics,” which we seem enticed to employ in our ministry objectives. [2]  

What gives this obsession such an evil edge? When we are tempted to measure the work, we remove the attention from God and place it on ourselves, making our “impact” of utmost importance. In fact, we end up measuring the temporal vestiges of our own “great works,” while perhaps missing entirely what God is doing in a deeper sense.

“When you can’t measure what is important, you make what is measurable important.”

In a recent documentary on the Vietnam War, filmmaker Ken Burns makes the perspicuous statement, “When you can’t measure what is important, you make what is measurable important.” In the Vietnam conflict this meant measuring body count rather than victory, since victory seemed impossible to measure. Though the bodies of our enemies piled up in greater quantity, we nevertheless lost the war.  

In our ministry context, what will we gain by measuring size, numbers, achievable goals, and measurable outcomes? Are these the works of God or merely the passing temporal efforts of humans? Numbers, though useful in context, according to Guinness, “create the illusion of greater accuracy than they have—so much so that there is no need to trust in God, or to take God into account at all.” [3] Thus, he argues, “numbers and the mania for metrics are therefore a critical element of secularization.” [4]

Are we in danger of embracing a secular approach to ministry? Are we in danger of placing our own works above the works of God? Could ministry therefore become idolatrous in its replacement of worship for work, scripture for SMART goals, and the Spirit’s guidance for statistics?

We are not in control of the outcome of our efforts at ministry.   

Be not deceived: we are not in control of the outcome of our efforts at ministry. We are called instead to faithfully carry out our individual task with all the energy and giftedness that God provides to us. It is for God to organize the outcome, to measure the ministry, to advance the kingdom. As one of my prayer partners put it recently, “I learned long ago that he keeps score, so I don’t have to.”

Our absurd obsession with leaving a legacy, which Guinness calls a “grand humanistic conceit,” suffers the same idolatrous failure of removing the attention from the mysterious working of God in the world. If we persist in self-promotion, we will suffer the fate of Ozmandias—our legacy will be a fragmented statue of a forgotten leader decaying in a desert with the inscription “look on my works ye mighty and despair.” [5]

We must remember the great power of the gospel.

Yet, Guinness does not leave us without hope and offers a grand encouragement for us to remember the great power of the gospel. He reminds us of how Mary’s speech illustrates the surprising and sovereign actions of God:

He has shown strength with his arm;
    he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts;
he has brought down the mighty from their thrones
    and exalted those of humble estate;
he has filled the hungry with good things,
    and the rich he has sent away empty. (Luke 1:51-53)

Biblical thinking can rightly be called “upside-down” thinking. Many of the obvious success strategies of the world are reversed, called backward in the Bible. In order to get rich, we must give (Luke 6:38); in order to become prominent, we must be humble (James 4:10); in order to lead we must serve (Mark 9:35); in order to live, we must die (Mark 8:35).

In keeping with these counterintuitive truths, Guinness exhorts us that “the church always goes forward best by going back first.” [6] Back we must go, yet not toward a golden historical age, but toward God himself. Back we must go toward Jesus Christ, defining our lives and work by his standard, submitted to the authority of his Word in Scripture.

We must go back toward God himself. 

When it comes to ministry then, the backward thinking of the Bible reminds us that though we labor intensely, God is the one working in the world. His is the direction, the strategy, the control, and the measurement. But consider, would we want it any other way? As Guinness reminds us, “all our modern savvy may be wonderful beyond words, but compared with the strategic leadership of the Holy Spirit, it is puny to the point of absurdity.” [7]

But God is working and we are invited to join! Thus, our obedience to his call on our lives is our duty and our joy and our encouragement to continue: “Therefore, since we have this ministry, as we received mercy, we do not lose heart” (2 Cor. 4:1). In simple obedience, we find ourselves joining a Global Strategist so wise, who leads a movement so beyond compare, and who calls us with such compassion to a life of such significance eternally all for his glory from which we benefit. Maranatha, come Lord Jesus.

[1] G.K. Chesteron, The Everlasting Man (Garden City, NY: Image Books, 1955).

[2] Os Guinness, Renaissance (Downers Grove: IVP, 2014), 38. 

[3] Ibid., 39.

[4] Ibid., 40.

[5] Percy Bysshe Shelley, “Ozymandias,” 1818. 

[6] Guinness, Renaissance, 133.

[7] Ibid., 104.

Darrell Dooyema works with with the International Student Ministry of The Navigators in Colorado Springs, Colorado. He is an adjunct professor of Philosophy and contributing author to the book Reasons to Believe: Thoughtful Responses to Life’s Tough Questions.

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